The Product and The Customer – Looking Back (Part #7) – Weekend Reflections for Leaders: November 17, 2018

The intent of the Looking Back series captured in recent Weekend Reflections for Leaders is to share some learnings from my journey of leaving a successful career with a great multi-national, life science company to learn and grow in the high growth (and high risk) mid-stage and early-stage life science marketplace. Over the last decade, I led a few companies to successful exits and also experienced a few very painful failures.

This weekend’s writing is the final part of the series. Here is a summary of the last few weeks of Looking Back:

Part #1: Guiding Principles

Part #2: Risk Taking and the Value of Failure

Part #3: Teamwork   

Part #4: Inspiration

Part #5: Energy & Focus

Part #6: Leadership & Empowerment

The construct of any business, whether large or small, starts with an identified need or problem to be solved. The development of an idea for a product or service that meets that need gets the ball rolling with forming a business. However, we just have a nice research project, not a business, until we have someone willing to pay for the product or service…and we don’t have the potential for a successful business until we have those same customers coming back to buy more and inviting their network of friends and colleagues to do the same.

In companies both large and small, there is a consistent internal cultural risk that arises with an infatuation of the product and how great “we” are for developing the product, while forgetting about the original intent of meeting a customer’s needs and losing the discipline to consistently assess how customers appreciate and value the product or service.

We create a great deal of work on trying to achieve “perfection” with the product and spend very little time seeing how it will integrate in a potential customer’s current workflow, what logistics barriers need to be addressed and most importantly, if customers will actually pay for it. In many of today’s market segments, and certainly in healthcare, companies need to further assess a potential customer’s commitment to buy the product with the follow-up question, “If you are going to buy this new product, what product or service are you going to stop buying as a result.” No one has an ever-expansive budget to just keep purchasing. The economic offset and product/service trade-offs of buying something new must be well understood to manage expectations for the launch of new product or service.

In many ways, creating the product to meet a need in the market is the easy part. The logistics, the integration into workflows, the pricing structure, etc. is where the real hard work needs to be done to ensure there is a wonderful customer experience that is delivered along with our “great” product.

In one of my more painful leadership learnings, I was a key leader in a company that was overly enthusiastic about how great our product was and paid little attention to the product’s practical application in the real world of our target customers. As a result, the company slowly walked into insolvency. It was a 10+ year journey and a multi-million-dollar investment that did not end well for anyone involved. 

Successful entrepreneurs have figured out that product development really begins in the hands of customers and getting product #1 out the door and being used by customers is just the beginning to creating the next big thing. Whether it is the software analogy of “Version 1.0 & 2.0” or “New & Improved”, the construct is the same, the customer is at the heart of product development and the company’s focus is on evolving the product offering to address the ongoing learnings from customers using it in real life.

Creating the perfect product from the start is a pipe-dream.  Companies need to focus on getting to market quickly with a marketable solution and then systematically learn and adopt their offerings based on learnings gathered from customers.

Ensuring that a trustworthy, respectful, and thoughtful customer experience is delivered as part of the purchase of a product will be the foundation for customers’ willingness to remain engaged around version 2.0, 3.0, etc. in the future. In today’s competitive world, products are rapidly becoming interchangeable and it is the customer experience around that product that builds long term customer relationships that can develop into a sustainable business.  

Both large and small companies suffer from an unhealthy infatuation of the product and migrate away from the original intent of a passion for solving a large unmet need in the market.

For today’s senior executives and top talent, there is an important element in the journey of leadership to ensure the organization’s intent remains focused on solving the needs of customers and not simply adding more creative bells and whistles to our “great” product.

What if I were to ask you, “What is the most difficult leadership challenge you are facing today?” What would you say?

Here are a few resources to help:

  1. Download FREE resources at
  2. Contact me. Email: (M) 269-370-9275

David Esposito

Charming curly girl in red apron advising wine sorts to man working in wine house market.